General marathon view
“What does the Olympics have to do with Libro Full Time project?” I hear you cry. Well, did I not say that a) I was going to be taking time off and sharing the fact that I do; b) the aim of working for myself was to be more flexible? Here’s how this has worked in practice.
I’ve spent the past two weeks working around my Olympic TV viewing. I told my regulars about this plan a couple of months ago, and reminded them more recently. They were told that I would do their work, but it might take a little longer and I might take a little longer to reply to emails. I installed myself on the sofa with my laptop beside me, and managed to work mostly in the early mornings. I did 34 hours the first week (oops) but 17 the second, and managed to see everything I wanted to see.
This all culminated in my decision to take Sunday off and pop down to London for the day. Thanks to Libro, I had the money to afford the travel (and actually it was pretty cheap in the end) and thanks to my understanding clients, no work to feel guilty about. Here’s what I did during my Olympic Adventure …
I got up at 3:30 and my cab arrived at 4:15. I then spent a somewhat uncomfortable half hour at the coach station (it’s near some nightclubs so there were a fair few drunk people popping in and out to use the facilities) and got on the 5:00 coach to London. Here’s a view of the coach station from the coach:
Birmingham coach station
We drove through the dawn; I had meant to sleep but instead watched the sunrise then read a book on my Kindle. The weather and scenery were very pretty.
Sunrise and Kindle
As we got into Golders Green, I started to notice Olympic signage on the lamp posts …
Olympic signs in Golders Green
Olympic lamp post sign in Golders Green
And as we reached central London, I spotted Olympic traffic lanes and bus stop signs.
Park Lane Olympic Lane and signs
Branded hotel on Park Lane
We got into Victoria at about 7:40. I walked up to St James’ Park, noticing more directional signage and the odd Gamesmaker along the way.
Buckingham Palace Road
Buckingham Palace Road helpful sign
Gamesmaker and sign
Up by Buckingham Palace I spotted the Army resplendent on their Boris bikes!
The Army on Boris bikes
The branding was getting more noticeable (as was the lack of apostrophes … )
Buckingham Palace Photographers’ area
… I don’t think this camera would have fitted in there:
… but there was a great atmosphere which continued as I made my way down the side of the park. I loved seeing the runners taking a sneaky detour down the marathon route! And everyone was smiling – police officers, marshalls, other members of the public. I took a few photos of tourists with their cameras!
An ordinary runner on the marathon route
I reached Trafalgar Square just after 8:00, having heard Big Ben chime. A lovely, helpful Gamesmaker pointed out that I would get the best view on the Embankment, which is where I had planned to head anyway. So I walked down to Embankment, reaching it by Hungerford Bridge. I walked along Eastwards for a bit and saw the feeding stations (nicely alphabetized)
Embankment feeding stations
but it was getting sunny already and, after snapping a self-portrait at Cleopatra’s Needle (Matthew and I used to like walking there in our courting days) I headed back for the bridge.
I stayed on the river side, as I’d worked out that the athletes would be running back down towards the finish on our side of the road. So I installed myself by the railings by about 8:15, and as the crowd started to build, I was joined by one lady from Portsmouth way who, like me, had decided to come after watching the Women’s Marathon, and a young German lady who is working in London, saw lots of the events and told me this was a good place at the Women’s Marathon last weekend. I took a picture of us at the end:
My new friends: Val, Liz and Monika – three ladies watching the marathon
We stood and chatted, pointing out flags …
National flags – US, Japan, UK, Venezuela
… watching the Canadian man next to us fashion a chair out of a traffic cone and some cardboard, and the marshal helping a chap pin his Basque flag to the railings (the Basque chap was reading Kate Fox’s “Watching the English” – a nice touch).
Basque man (just seen), Basque flag, Canadian man
The marshals gathered to have their debrief, then spread out around the course.
The crowd built on the opposite side and ours, too, I had a sneaky bun, as breakfast was seeming far in the past, and then they were off!
This really was the perfect spot. The first loop the runners took came down towards us then went the other way – but we got a great view of the amazing press vehicle with its serried ranks of photographers
The press were in tiers
… then the amazing camera van (this was from later)
… and the camera motorbike
Then the first runners whizzed around the corner.
First short lap feat Kiprotich
The “Go Jesper” signs built up on the other side, and we always looked out for the Danish runner as he came past and gave him a special cheer.
Supporting Jesper Faurschou from Denmark
A few minutes, and they were round again. The Gamesmakers had quickly and efficiently moved the mini cones, so the route was clear, and here they came, along the other side of the road, heading for the City. Yes, it’s blurry … but they were going fast!
And then the longest wait while the race was actually on, as they went round the city and came back down our side. The TV footage shows them doing all manner of exciting things like running through Leadenhall Market. The marshalls were great here, organising Mexican Wave competitions between the two sides of the road. Then they were back! Whizzing past us as we screamed ourselves hoarse for every single runner. They were concentrating, but I bet they could hear us (I hope they could!). They were already quite strung out, with the elite Kenyans and the eventual winner, Kiprotich from Uganda, at the front, favourite, Mutai, a little way back, our plucky chaps a bit further back (and yes, I found myself screaming even louder for them) and then the rest of the field, still elite, the best in their country … but coming last in a small field like this is very obvious.
Chasers including Kiprotich
But do you know what? The crowd cheered more loudly for those at the back than for anyone else. I cheered for my compatriots, for people from countries where I have clients, like Russia, Finland and Poland, for those where I have friends, like Australia and, for those where I love the country – fitting in Tunisia – and everyone else!
Runners including Finland
It was amazing. The pics with them running to the left used no zoom. We could have reached out and touched them. It was astounding, beautiful, and so heartwarming. I did manage not to cry too much. I took one more set of photos as they came back round, which came out quite well.
Tambwe from France DNF and Tebulo from Malawi 44th with PB
Pak North Korea and Czech runner
Then I put the camera away and just enjoyed the moment. The countries. The battles. The striving. The Greek guy who waved and smiled as he did his last lap, and got an even bigger cheer.
They went up and back past us three times in total, so we saw the runners seven times. Thank you, Trafalgar Square Gamesmaker! And we watched them to the end. Well, we thought Timor Leste was at the end, but then as I said goodbye to my new friends (the German girl was off to the Modern Pentathlon for the afternoon), I realised that the chap from Lesotho was still going, so stopped to cheer him, and to take a picture of a marshal who’s been in the country for a year and a Dutch tourist who had made friends. I then walked east until I got up onto the Strand and popped in on a favourite restaurant, Sofra, for lunch.
Sofra vegetarian healthy meal
Then it was time to walk to Charing Cross and get the Bakerloo line to Marylebone. Even on the Tube, there were directions and signs.
Charing Cross tube
I got to Marylebone in good time for my 16:00 train. And I couldn’t help chatting to a Gamesmaker who sat down beside me. Yvette had been doing action replays for the Taekwondo, and was off to the Paralympics to do IT, too. I thanked her, as I tried to thank all the Gamesmakers I came across, who were unfailingly cheery and polite, and took her photo, with permission. A perfect end to a wonderful day, I thought.
Yvette the Gamesmaker
But there’s more! My train was announced, and I headed for the platform, only to see a lady walking along with an Olympic-branded box and a large case. Drawing up alongside her I realised it was my old University friend, Alison, who is a qualified track judge and had spent the previous week and a half in the photo finish booth at the main stadium.
Alison the track judge
On the train with us was a chap who’d been a Gamesmaker in the stadium, and a woman and her daughter who’d been at the stadium on Thursday, so there was much chatting and explaining. I said I’d put this bit from Alison into this post: “Can I just say thanks to all the Gamesmakers wherever they were working and a huge thanks to all the athletics officials? I’m sure the hotel staff think we are all mad… we probably are!” Alison got off at Bicester, met by her husband and small son: bye bye, Alison …
Bye bye Alison
And I continued to Birmingham, talking about urban design and food sustainability, as you do; quite tired but what a wonderful day. Here I am going past the Coach Station at 18:15, a mere 13 or so hours after I left it …
Digbeth coach station
I can honestly say that this was one of the best days of my life. London was amazing – very un-Londony, relaxed, friendly and smiling. I am so glad I experienced the Games for myself and at an event I love already, and for free! I watched some of it back on the TV then the closing ceremony with all its patchiness, but it was still an experience shared with much of the rest of the nation and much of it brought a tear to my eye, especially the thanks to the volunteers. Well done, Seb Coe, well done Gamesmakers and track judges, and thank you for an amazing experience.